Birmingham’s award-winning food scene vilified: BAD FOR AMERICA

Samantha Dubrinsky
Samantha Dubrinsky

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Samantha Dubrinsky.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Food & Wine magazine would be relocating to Birmingham. For weeks, there were articles highlighting what a wonderful move this is for Birmingham and the food industry.

Birmingham has so much to offer when it comes to a blossoming food scene — wonderful restaurants with world-renowned chefs and seemingly endless opportunities for new developments.

But, our award-winning food scene isn’t the only thing that Birmingham has to offer. We’re a diverse city that is going through an amazing renaissance. Every day, I learn of something new that is happening in Birmingham that I want to be a part of.

From new bars and restaurants popping up everywhere to opportunities for making an impact on the city through social justice projects, there’s no shortage of an array of options for Birminghamians to choose from.

However, an article published recently on argues the exact opposite. The author Shaun Chavis, who lived in Birmingham for eight years, believes that Food & Wine moving to Birmingham is bad for our country.

Whoa. When I read the headline of the article, “Food & Wine is moving to the Deep South. That’s not good for America,” I couldn’t help but think how bold and unreasonable of a statement that is.

The author writes, “The decision to move Food & Wine to Birmingham is a bad one for American culture. Birmingham is the wrong city.”

“The outgoing editor-in-chief,” she continues, “Of Food & Wine, Nilou Motamed, is an Iranian-born woman raised in France who speaks four languages and lives in New York City, known for an incredible immigrant population. Now, Food & Wine will be helmed by a white man in the Deep South, the region most associated with our nation’s racism, bigotry, and xenophobia, in one of America’s most segregated cities.”

When I first read this article, I couldn’t believe that the author was referring to MY Birmingham, the 2017 version of Birmingham. Sure, Birmingham has issues just as any other city in the US, but to say that it is one of America’s most segregated cities pushes us into a tired perception that we’ve fought — mostly successfully — for years to overcome.

As part of my job at the Birmingham Jewish Federation, I talk to Jewish people who are interested in moving to or have just moved to Birmingham. I’ve had so many conversations with people who are eager to explore Birmingham’s diversity and have the opportunity to make a difference in a city whose violent and oppressive Civil Rights history is part of what moves us all forward.

The Jewish community in Birmingham (which I am a member of) is thriving, with around 6200 Jewish individuals inhabiting our great city. And the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Levite Jewish Community Center help create relationships with other ethnic and religious groups across the city. Despite vastly different views, we all manage to get along and live in harmony. In fact, after sitting down for a cup of coffee and conversation, we have much more in common than we originally thought. And part of what we have in common is how much we love OUR — that’s right, all of ours — Birmingham.

I have no doubt that Food & Wine magazine’s move to Birmingham will be a good one. Not only will it enhance our city, but I think what Birmingham can contribute to America’s food scene is invaluable and unique.

And, even if the author of the article criticizing our city is right, she should at least give Birmingham a chance. In fact, that’s what I say to anyone who has any negative perceptions of Birmingham or is concerned about moving here: Just give us a chance.

Samantha Dubrinsky, a Birmingham native, works for the Birmingham Jewish Federation as the Director of Community Impact. Samantha is passionate about moving the “Magic City” forward.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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11 thoughts on “Birmingham’s award-winning food scene vilified: BAD FOR AMERICA”

  1. David, in your article you say that “Birmingham has so much to offer when it comes to a blossoming food scene — wonderful restaurants with world-renowned chefs and seemingly endless opportunities for new developments.”

    Where are the “world-renowned chefs”? Please name their restaurants. I am still fairly new to Birmingham and would love to check them all out.

    1. Hi Adam – I’m the author of the piece that Samantha and David are responding to. A number of chefs in Birmingham have been nominees for the James Beard Awards, including Chris Dupont at Cafe Dupont, James Lewis at Bettola, Chris Hastings at Hot & Hot Fish Club, and Frank Stitt, who owns a restaurant group — his flagship is Highlands Bar & Grill, and he also owns Chez Fonfon and Bottega. The service at Highlands is warm and impeccable. The Bright Star in Bessemer has won an American Classic award from the Beard Foundation, and the owners of Jim & Nick’s BBQ won an award as outstanding restaurateurs.

      Beyond those given a nod by the JBF, I recommend Satterfield’s, Bamboo on 2nd, Ollie Irene (just re-opening), and Post Office Pies.

      Samantha and David, I sincerely appreciate your continuing this conversation as it is an important one. You wrote that Birmingham has experienced success in overcoming segregation. How is this success measured — and who is measuring it?

    2. Thank you very much, David! I can’t wait to try all of these. And thanks for WSJ article! It was so good that I shared it on my LinkedIn page.

  2. Yet, for all our great classic southern and nouveau cuisine, one still cannot find a decent New York-style bagel bakery . . . what am I supposed to do on Sunday mornings with my New York Times, eat Thomas bagels or English muffins owned by Grupo Bimbo, a Mexican world-wide bakery conglomerate? Oy! How I miss the Bagel Factory in Cahaba Heights.

  3. The article’s author seems to lament that Food and Wine magazine left New York City which has “an incredible immigrant population.” A century ago, Birmingham was a hotbed for immigration. Many of the descendants of these immigrant live in the Birmingham area today. I fact I went to school with their children. They have impacted Birmingham’s culture.

  4. I often eat at various “meat and 3” places around Birmingham. You can’t get much more local or neighborhood than a “meat and 3” (for those who may not know that is a restaurant, usually cafeteria style, that prices meals as a meat and 3 vegtables, or 2 or 1). I see all kinds of mixed groups all the time. Black and white, business men it suits (all races – together!), workmen in well worn work clothes (again all races – together), young, old. So, the “evidence” is all over if one looks. Are there issues here? Sure, just like other places, north and south. Have we really come a long way? Most certainly!

  5. i second Shaun Chavis’s comment – is anyone measuring desegregation in the region and by what metrics?

    Education has been the one most monitored. Employment is another. However, I don’t seen neighborhood and city metrics discussed much. The information is hard to find for newcomers – you have to know what information to interpret and how.

    These are the hard questions. When they are dodged, I see and read that these are the most sensitive.

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